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Why a French dinner always involves offal or stinky cheese

Elizabeth Kesses
By Elizabeth Kesses Published on 29 August 2011

The French have a capacity for eating food that would turn any Brit green at the gills.

Why a French dinner always involves offal or stinky cheese

They see animals primarily as nourishment whereas we anthropomorphize them: Larry the Lamb, Watership Down, Bambi, Babe!

The French butchers still sell horse meat (heave) and you need guts of steel to actually buy meat across the counter.

A strung out rabbit or a headless chicken usually catch my eye, curbing my desire to cook meat. I usually end up buying mince as it does not look like flesh.

They also love anything 'high' or odiferous - overripe cheese, overhung meat, strong smelling artichokes, over-garlicky pate.

There is nothing subtle about traditional French fayre. Especially 6 hours later when it is best to be a couple meters away from your nearest and dearest.

We were invited to one such dinner, in the Batignolles - the crustier end of the 17th district. I knew I had a culinary battle ahead no sooner had I seen the miniature Napoleon soldiers in the hallway.

The phallic saucission lying on the table next to a bottle of red wine as our aperitif was another strong clue.

We sat in the creaky antique chairs and chatted about school system - I of course championed alternative Steiner approach. Though my beau said that a friend had sent his son to Steiner and he still could not read.

Our hosts ushered us gracefully to the table. Dinner, they said, was informal and so it was, In a kitchen that made ours look like a laboratory, they had all sorts of pots and pans laying about. A noisy boiler interrupted conversation and the mop next to our table gave the proceedings a distinctly "rustic" feel.

The menu could not have been more Gallic and wind-inducing: French onion soup followed by boiled ham and rabbit pate.

The pate was made by our host and he tool great pleasure in describing how he liked to skin the rabbits in the kitchen while listening to classical music. The whole thing sounded a bit "Hannibal Lecter" to me.

We wound d the meal down with the smelliest cheese - one apparently still knocking around from last Christmas.

The piece de resistance, however, was the desert: a simple enough fruit salad but alongside a bottle of Gran Marnier. It gave the fruit a wicked kick.

Our hosts served the salad with homemade peanut brittle made of purest butter and cruchiest of peanuts. Delightful but I wondered how long I would have to train to burn off the huge amounts of calories I'd just consumed.

After dinner we retired to the salon where conversation was also wonderfully vintage.
We delved into the past and debated the English and French monarchy. I decided I was a royalist. I could not understand why anyone would want to celebrate the death of the beautiful cultured people on the 14th July.

I bemoaned the absence of fine furniture in Versailles - I though the revolutionaries had pillaged it but apparently the finest pieces are in Buckingham Palace! Naughty Queen.

We also discussed the ever present question in every French person's mind - would you have been in the resistance or a collaborator in the Second World War?

I was convinced our home had been a refuge for the resistance - our cellar had a conspiratorial air. I wondered if the French would have come to save us Brits, if it had been we who'd been invaded and not them? Probably a question best left unanswered.

We left sated and bloated from conversation as much as food & drink.

My beau and I are definitely hybrid-Europeans - my beau has none of the gory habits of the Galls and I'm not a stuffy, toffee-nosed Anglo Saxon when it comes to food.

I've mellowed his wayward passions as much as he's liberated me from my ever-so British sense of order.

Vive entente cordiale!


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